History Tells Us Who Will Win the Game of Thrones

Now that the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones has begun on HBO, reviewers, pundits, superfans and office colleagues have begun wondering who will win. Which of many candidates will sit, however tentatively, on the Throne of Swords?

Articles like this one in the New York Times list the likely characters and reasons why he or she may or may not take over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Even the gambling experts of Las Vegas are laying odds on the Big Winner. Sorting through the assortment of Starks, Lannisters, and Targaryens, the oddsmakers have come up with an off-kilter favorite.

They’re all forgetting something.

The Cousins War

Margaret of Anjou, warrior queen, English history, Wars of the Roses, Lancaster, York, Game of Thrones

Margaret of Anjou

Author George R. R. Martin has made no secret of the fact that he based his series, “A Song of Ice and Fire” on the Cousins War, also known as the Wars of the Roses, between the Yorks and the Lancasters. (Stark and Lannister). Anyone familiar with that period in English history can see the parallels play out. To list just a few:

  • Robert Baratheon and Edward IV of England.
  • Bran and Rickon Stark and the two York princes who died (or not) in the Tower of London.
  • Cersei Lannister and Margaret of Anjou, married to the “Mad King” Edward VI.
  • Bloodthirsty, sadistic Joffrey Baratheon and Edward of Westminster
  • Exiled Daenerys Targaryen and Henry (VII) Tudor growing up in France
  • The Red Wedding and Scotland’s Glencoe Massacre

You’ll find more of these parallels, lots more, lurking in the history books. Thus, one has only to look backward to discover the future ruler of the Seven Kingdoms—assuming anyone of the candidates survives the coming war with the Night King.

Or not.

After the Cousins War

For me, the greatest parallels come after the Cousins War. When the Yorks and the Lancasters had been at one another’s throats for bloody decades, both houses lost the throne of England to the Tudors. Henry VII defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field when the treacherous Lord Thomas Stanley waited on the sidelines until he perceived that the Tudors were winning. At that point, he led his men in to support the Tudors and defeat the York king.

Richard III, Battle of Bosworth Field, York, Lancaster, Game of Thrones, Thomas Stanley

Richard III unhorsed at Bosworth Field

Shades of Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale at the Battle of the Bastards but in reverse. Petyr Baelish may have waited until the last minute but at least he came in on the right side. Littlefinger got his just desserts, though, while Lord Stanley rose high under Henry VII and eventually married Henry’s ruthless mother, Margaret Beaufort.

What happened next? A dynastic marriage between Elizabeth of York and Henry (VII) Tudor brought a kind of peace to the land and began the short-lived Tudor dynasty. Could that union predict the long-anticipated dynastic (and incestuous) marriage between Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow (Aegon Targaryen)?

The Tudor Dynasty

Let’s turn to another chapter in the history book. Henry and Elizabeth had three children, Arthur, Henry (VIII) and Margaret. Arthur died at 16 years old. Henry took the throne and married his brother’s widow, Katharine of Aragon. Margaret got shipped north to Scotland when she married the Scots King James IV.

Henry VIII had several offspring but most died in miscarriages, still births or infant deaths. Only three legitimate children survived childhood:

  1. Mary, daughter of Katharine of Aragon (wife #1)
  2. Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn (wife #2)
  3. Edward, son of Jane Seymour (wife #3)
Henry VIII, Mary I, Elizabeth I, Edward VI, Thomas Holbein, Hampton Court

Family of Henry VIII, unknown artist after Thomas Holbein

A real-life, but less bloody, Battle of the Bastards followed the death of Henry VIII. Edward reigned briefly as King Edward VI but also died at 16. At various times during his reign, Henry VIII declared both of his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth legitimate and illegitimate, depending on his political requirements. Both were also exiled from court at different times.

Mary Tudor, daughter of a devout Catholic mother, ruled briefly and attempted to bring the Church back to Protestant England. By carrying out this charge in the worst possible way, she earned the title Bloody Mary. (Yes, that’s who the drink is named for.) Mary Tudor died without issue and her sister Elizabeth became Queen. Daughter of a Protestant mother, she restored Protestant Christianity to the nation and, in the process, unleashed horrific anti-Catholic violence.

Game of Thrones: The Losers

So, what does all this mean for the next ruler of Westeros?

  • Cersei Lannister, Lena Headey, Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R, Martin

    Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey)

    Forget Cersei. She’s toast and most of us would be happy to see her suffer the same fate as poor little Lord Umber in Episode 1, who deserved it far less than she.

  • Forget Gendry. Whether he’s modeled on Perkin Warbeck the Lancaster “pretender” who threated the rule of Henry VII, he will not play a major role. The man who may have actually been the boy Richard of York lost his battle and his head to Henry VII.
  • Forget Bran. Spiritual leaders like Thomas More served as advisors to British kings but they did not take the throne. Even if Bran succeeded, he would not do a good job of ruling boisterous, dangerous Westeros.

Game of Thrones: Potential Winners

  • Possibly Sansa: Eddard Stark’s elder daughter has become as tough and savvy as Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, or Margaret of Anjou before her. She’s determined and would make a better ruler than many men, especially Robert Baratheon. I also think she would have more respect for the law. But no English queen took the throne on her own from the Empress Maud in 1135 in until Mary Tudor in 1553. I don’t think Sansa will break that pattern.
  • Danaerys Targaryen, Emelia Clarke, Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, silver queen, mother of dragons

    Danaerys Targaryen (Emelia Clarke)

    Possibly Daenerys: Much as it pains me to say this, ditto for Dany. I have loved her character since the day she stood up to her abusive brother after he sold her to Khal Drogo,the Dothraki Horse Lord. Even with the power of her two remaining dragons, however, she doesn’t map to any character in 15th and 16th century English history. (Oh, how I wish Mary Queen of Scots had possessed even one dragon.)

  • Possibly Tyrion: Mr. Martin probably based the dwarf who drinks and knows things on Shakespeare’s biased description of a hunchbacked Richard III—one that probably delighted his Tudor Queen, Elizabeth I. Richard died on Bosworth Field. So, probably there will be no throne for a man who appears to have lost his strategic smarts. He believes Cersei like Richard believed Lord Stanly and we know what happened after that.

Game of Thrones: Odds-on Winner

  • Jon Snow, Aegon Targaryen, Kit Harrington, Lord of the North, Lord Commander of the Wall

    Jon Snow (Kit Harrington)

    Probably Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen: Like Henry VII, Jon connects two of the aristocratic houses of Westeros, Stark and Targaryen. With a marriage to Daenerys, he would pull the Targaryen line even closer. Yes, she is his aunt but the Targaryen family practiced dynastic incest for generations. I doubt she would not refuse the nephew she has already accepted into her bed.

Jon, however, is the straightest of straight arrows and a man who cannot lie, break a vow, do the wrong thing, or even just present a necessary evil in a positive light. Now that he knows his true lineage, will he quibble at a little incest? Now that he has bent the knee, will he bend his stiff neck?

The Night King

That leaves the Night King and his Army of the Dead. Hmmm. The only historical parallel I can think of is the English Sweating Sickness, a deadly disease with a high mortality rate that came to England with the troops of Henry VII. Like the Spanish Flu of 1919, it killed in a matter of hours and respected neither title, status, nor wealth.

I don’t see the Night King winning this battle and taking the throne, however because that means the end of Westeros. What the Army of the Dead does kill, the newly arrived winter will. Only the Greyjoy family of the Iron Isles would survive. That would end the series and the whole complicated story with a decisive thud.

There you have it: the historical connections that may predict who wins the Throne of Swords and prevails in “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Make of it what you will. Just remember what the man who created it all said about his inspiration. We have to go backwards to look ahead.

Boning Up on the Cousins War

If you want to read more about the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor Dynasty, tackle the Cousin’s War series of novels by Philippa Gregory. Start with “Lady of the Rivers” and read on through. Or watch The White Queen and The White Princess on Starz.

The Cousins War, The Wars of the Roses, Philippa Gregory, historical novelsThe Tudors get more play, probably because of the drama around Henry VIII and his six wives. Many authors, including Alison Weir, have written about this period. Hilary Mantel tackled them in her award-winning books, “Wolf Hall” and “Bring up the Bodies.” I confess to not being able to get into them, though, and I couldn’t access the series on PBS Masterpiece for some reason.

On TV, we also have “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” and “The Tudors.” For my money, though, Ms. Gregory’s books do an excellent job of painting the period that inspired George R.R. Martin to create Westeros. Also, they focus on the women, who present a fascinating study in how to gain and wield power with or without a crown.

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